By Ron Rop
COMSTOCK PARK – The North Muskegon Norsemen knew exactly what needed to be done on Thursday night to win a Division 4 regional soccer championship.
Stop high-scoring Jonathan Stout, a senior forward from Potters House who will be taking his talents to Michigan State University next year.
However, great players find ways to make things happen at key times and that’s just what Stout did.
For more than 66 minutes, the Norsemen were in Stout’s face, on his back and standing shoulder to shoulder with him.
But a free kick from 27 yards out with 3:47 remaining on the clock was the game’s lone goal and sends the Pumas to the state semifinals. That 1-0 result moves Coach Mike Colago’s team into next Wednesday’s state semifinal game against Holland Black River, a 3-2 winner over Hartford on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think he had a great look all night with Hunter Koekkoek on him,” NM coach Jeremy Tjapkes said of the effort to stop Stout. “Hunter played him as good as you can play him and then some.”
The Norsemen and Pumas had no real scoring chances to speak of in the first half. In fact, there were no shots on goal by either team.
The second was a different story as each team took turns gaining the momentum. The first shot on goal was by Stout, whose low shot was turned away by NM keeper Leighton Hunt.
North Muskegon’s best opportunity came with 27:58 remaining when the Puma goalkeeper, Seth Hoeksema, wandered out from the goal and was caught. Norseman senior Dylan Schultz connected on a shot from 40 yards out that slid just left of the goal.
Near the midpoint of the second half, it was the Pumas who controlled the play. North Muskegon took its turn exerting pressure near the 10-minute mark.
Then came a NM foul 27 yards out from the goal. The Norsemen had a defensive wall 10 yards from the ball, but Stout unloaded on a perfect shot that sailed into the upper right corner of the net. It was Stout’s 28th goal of the season.
“We knew he was deadly on free kicks,” Tjapkes said. “But, you can’t always tell exactly where he’s going to go. You give an amazing player like that an opportunity when the game is on the line … that’s what makes him a great player.”
Stout knew this was his chance to be a hero with just a few minutes left on the clock.
“This might be the only way we can score late in the game,” said Stout, who scored 46 goals last season and has more than 100 in his career. “I’m tired, they’re tired and we’re having a hard time connecting. With 3 minutes left, I thought this might be it. I have to put it away.”
From there, the clock ran out and Coach Colago and his celebrated a victory and the school’s first-ever regional title and a spot in next week’s semifinal game.
“This is the furthest, final four, never done it,” Colago said. “For a school that takes kids, refugees, we are intentionally diverse and try to build a program with kids who might not have a chance in other places. We really worked on it a lot.”
Potters House moves on with a 22-3-1 record while North Muskegon, which took its lumps this season playing bigger schools and more competitive teams in order to better prepare for a tournament run, finished 11-12-1.
“We weren’t getting the wins we usually get, but we were learning from those games we played and it made us stronger,” Tjapkes said. “I liked out chances tonight, but it just wasn’t in the plans, I guess.”